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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

GOP Establishment Prevails In Primary Races

Thom Tillis waves to supporters at a election night rally in Charlotte, N.C., after winning the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate Tuesday, May 6, 2014. Tillis, the Republican establishment’s favored son in North Carolina, won the state’s Senate nomination by running as a proud conservative who’s not terribly different from his tea party and Christian-right opponents. (Chuck Burton/AP)

Thom Tillis waves to supporters at a election night rally in Charlotte, N.C., after winning the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate Tuesday, May 6, 2014. Tillis, the Republican establishment’s favored son in North Carolina, won the state’s Senate nomination by running as a proud conservative who’s not terribly different from his tea party and Christian-right opponents. (Chuck Burton/AP)

On Tuesday, voters in North Carolina, Ohio and Indiana cast ballots in several key primary races.

North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis won the Republican U.S. Senate nomination in North Carolina — a victory for the GOP in a battleground state that will feature one of the nation’s most competitive Senate races this fall.

In Ohio, House Speaker John Boehner also beat out his Tea Party challengers in his Ohio congressional district, and first-term GOP incumbent David Joyce held off against Rep. Matt Lynch.

In fact, every U.S. House incumbent on the ballot Tuesday in the three states that voted won re-nomination. NPR’s Digital Politics Editor Charlie Mahtesian joins Here & Now’s Robin Young to discuss these primary results.




From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.


I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW. Coming up, we'll speak with bioethicist Ezekiel Emanuel, one of the architects of Obamacare, about where we are now with the law and what challenges lie ahead.

YOUNG: But first, who said voters were in an anti-incumbent mood? There were primaries yesterday in three states: Ohio; Indiana; and North Carolina. And every incumbent won. But what about the Tea Party and "American Idol" runner-up Clay Aiken? Isn't this all about Clay Aiken? NPR's digital politics editor Charlie Mahtesian was up late watching the results. And Charlie, we'll get to Clay Aiken, there's a lot of buzz about that race. But are you surprised that all the incumbents won?

CHARLIE MAHTESIAN, BYLINE: No, not at all because we had a couple primaries earlier this year, and incumbents seemed to do pretty well. What might be surprising is that the polling seems to suggest there's all sorts of roiling anti-incumbent sentiment out there, but so far, you know, most incumbents that have gone before the voters have won pretty comfortably.

YOUNG: Yeah, well let's look, start in North Carolina. Tom Tillis, the Republican House speaker of North Carolina won handily in the race for the U.S. Senate nomination over the Tea Party-backed candidate Greg Brannon, Brannon backed by Rand Paul, Tillis by Mitt Romney and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Just parse that for us. I mean, he was expected to win. Was the question how much?

MAHTESIAN: Well, one big difference in that race was money. Tillis had spent more than twice as much as his nearest Republican challenger, and that doesn't even count all the independent spending on his behalf by groups like American Crossroads, the Chamber of Commerce and the National Rifle Association. But in that race, money doesn't explain everything.

I think it's important to note that Tillis had more experience as a political candidate than the others that you mentioned, and there was also polling suggested that while - that suggested that while he wasn't exactly the designated candidate of the Tea Party faction, Tom Tillis still ran pretty well with self-identified Tea Party voters.

YOUNG: Yeah, so you can't count them out in that race. Just very briefly, though, was Mitt Romney a factor? Some are wondering if he's having a moment. His backers say he was also redeemed when Russia began annexing parts of Ukraine because Romney said during the campaign that Russia was a threat, and he was laughed at then. Does this mark - I mean, will we be seeing in the fall, is this marking a moment for Mitt Romney?

MAHTESIAN: I think he's stepping out of the shadows and out of the loss, you know, bit by bit. You see him showing up, endorsing candidates in various races. He showed up in an Idaho race, where his endorsement matters a good bit to an incumbent House congressman who is in some trouble in a primary back home.

And I think what it is is a signal that the 2012 GOP presidential nominee doesn't really want to fade away, that he still wants to have a role and have a spot in the public policy debate and in the political arena.

YOUNG: Well Tillis in North Carolina, his candidate definitely has bigger fish in mind. last night he mentioned of course that he's going to face the Democrat Senator Kay Hagan in the fall, and also he's going to beat Harry Reid, Harry Reid of course the Senate majority leader. Just remind us how important this is.

MAHTESIAN: Well, I think there's every reason to think that this race in North Carolina is going to be a money-drenched, knock-down, drag-out affair. It's a race that's essential to Republican hopes of taking back the Senate, so there's going to be great national interest in this race, and national outlets, I think, are going to be parachuting in reporters every week to cover it.

And I think in terms of the tone, you know, you couldn't help but notice last week, or last night, if you were a reporter that once the race was called for Tillis, within moments nearly every liberal political group was out with a statement ripping into Tom Tillis, and that I think is a sign that both sides have been gearing up for some time now for a very, very tough race in North Carolina.

YOUNG: In Ohio, House Speaker John Boehner easily hung onto his seat, beat out a Tea Party challenger. But is the question here is he going to hold on to his speakership?

MAHTESIAN: Well, he didn't exactly have top-tier competition in his primary. His challengers were largely unknown, and they spent very little money, and so he ended up winning by something close to a landslide, although I would note that his primary election winning margin declined by about 15 percentage points over 2012. But I think in any case, there really wasn't much last night to suggest he's weak back home, and now the only question is how long he wants to stay in Congress and how long he wants to deal with the hassles of the speakership.

Already there's quite a bit of speculation that he might resign after winning his next term in November, and it's been noticed in Washington that, you know, a number of his confidantes and close aides, or close allies that is, aren't running for re-election this year.

YOUNG: Well in our last minute here, let's bounce back to North Carolina because "American Idol" runner-up Clay Aiken made a run for the Democratic nomination in North Carolina's Second District. What is your sense of how he's faring there? He said I'm not a politician, I don't want to be one.

MAHTESIAN: Right, well, like the entertainer he is, Clay Aiken sure knows how to make an entrance. His last - or his first political race is still too close to call, even now. All the precincts have reported in, and Aiken is leading by roughly 400 votes. But it's not entirely certain he's going to be able to avoid a run-off election there.

But if the current results hold, and he does end up as the nominee, it's worth remembering that he's still got a pretty steep climb ahead of him before he gets to Congress. That's a district that's pretty comfortably Republican. So it won't be easy for a Democrat to win there.

YOUNG: But everyone will watch. NPR's digital politics editor Charlie Mahtesian, thanks as always.

MAHTESIAN: Thank you, Robin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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